It's pretty obvious what has ailed the Astros in their recent rough patch of a week after a scorching May; they're playing the kind of baseball that got them in the 5-14 hole at the start of the season. A bad bullpen, errors, and inconsistent hitting (in that order, from my opinion) are the largest issues that have the Astros struggling in the last few weeks. There wasn't a whole lot that went right tonight, so I'll focus on the issues tonight that have been a microcosm of the Astros' stuggles.
A Bullpen Back to Earth
After ripping through lineups in the late innings for the last few weeks, the Astros bullpen has been overworked and hit around. Paul Clemens (who I honestly didn't know was up with the major league club after all his shuffling between Houston and OKC this season) continues to disappoint out of the bullpen with his atmospheric home run rates and an inability to command his fastball. In the seventh inning of a game that was still close, Clemens four hits on meatballs down the middle of the plate; a single to Ryan Hanigan, a home run to light-hitting Kevin Kiermaier, another moonshot to Evan Longoria that travelled to Disneyworld, and a roped single to James Loney. Clemens isn't just one of those pitchers the casual fan dislikes because he pitches poorly in some situations; his HR/9 rate sits at 1.19 in 22 innings, this after a disastrous 1.96 HR/9 in 2013. Interestingly, Clemens seems to pitch decently when given a spot start in the rotation, but his role in the bullpen has been a failure (5.30 FIP) and a starter in OKC (Jake Buchanan, David Martinez, or the recently activated Asher Wojciechowski) would be better options as a long man.
Error(s), Not Found
After a few inconsistent starts with high pitch counts, Colin McHugh responded well with six innings of scoreless ball (from his end) and six strikeouts. Unfortunately, on his own error and another from Jonathan Villar, McHugh took the loss in this one. The Astros defense has been much improved over the course of the season, especially by advanced metrics, but tonight's game highlighted the mental mistakes that can plague a team that still is usually the least talented of two on the field, even with the recent callups.
Time to Get Offensive
The Astros offense, which is actually the least of my personal long-term worries with the team, didn't show up tonight. I'm confident about the talent level and the ability to put up runs, especially after a solid showing in Washington the last two games against a good team, but the lineup is still inconsistent with the streakiness of Springer, Singleton and Dominguez among others. Jose Altuve showed up yet again, recording two hits and two stolen bases. For those counting at home, Altuve currently sits two points behind Robinson Cano for the AL batting lead at .331 and has 26 steals.
Even as I've highlighted the Astros struggles, a struggling team like the Rays deserves credit for this win. Joe Maddon is running out a lineup who's best current hitter is a guy that not many people have heard of (Kiermaier at .316), so things aren't going well on the Rays front. Chris Archer showed why he's one of the best, albeit inconsistent young pitchers in the game stuff-wise with 6.2 shutout innings and eight strikeouts.
This recap may be one of the more pessimistic responses to the Astros' poor play the last week. I've been just as excited about the surge this team has seen, but we're not out of the woods yet. The Stros will still go through rough patches before the season ends, and they might have gotten themselves back into one already. Here's a spot of sunshine; Jarred Cosart returns to the site of his magical baseball debut tomorrow as he pitches against David Price. If Cosart can somewhat replicate that scoreless eight inning performance, the Astros may have enough to get a win. Also, the Rays starter in Cosart's debut last July? David Price. Tomorrow sounds better already.
Houston (Jarred Cosart, 6-5, 4.01 FIP, which is lower than his ERA! ) vs. Tampa Bay (David Price, 3.05 FIP) at 6:05